Since I retired, the alarm function of my bedside clock has had less and less use and so it was a shock to the system this morning to find that I must inadvertently have pressed the alarm button last night, with the result that it roused me far too early from a deep and satisfying sleep. With no pressing need to get out of my warm and comfortable bed (these late October mornings are much too chilly for my liking and I’m going to church this evening) I drifted into that pleasurable state between waking and sleeping which allows all sorts of odd memories to rise to the surface of the mind.
To my surprise I found myself retracing my childhood walk to school, a small church primary school in a little village on the western fringes of the Pennines in
Lancashire. In my mind’s eye I climbed the slope from our
cottage to the stile into the field in which our neighbouring farmer grazed his
cows. Once through the stile (a swing-gate, not a ladder stile) I walked along
the footpath by the stone wall which bordered the field, until I reached the
stile at the far end leading into the centre of the village.
|Post Office and shop|
From the stile I turned right for a short distance until the lane met the main road through the village. Ahead of me, across the road, stood the village post-office and shop, next door to The Victoria Arms, one of the three village pubs, the other two being strung out along the road through our small, but very straggling community. Turning left at the junction, I passed on my left the second of our village shops, run throughout my childhood by two unmarried sisters, Bessie and Marion.
It was in this shop that my sisters and I bought our small weekly allowance of sweets and the choice was always fraught. For 3 (old) pence we could buy two ounces of a wide variety of tooth-rotting goodies, such as pear-drops or mint imperials, aniseed balls or dolly mixtures, jelly babies or humbugs. I could go on….
Alternatively we could opt for a number of individually priced items like liquorice straps or sherbet dabs or even (perish the thought nowadays) a packet of sweet cigarettes which would allow us to mimic our elders’ behaviour before eating the chewy little sticks one by one.
Once past the shop I left the village centre behind and continued along the road for a few hundred yards to the next group of buildings. All but one were houses, but the exception also played a central role in our lives back then. It was the Sunday School building for the Congregational chapel we belonged to and was the scene of many of the most enjoyable events of my childhood.
Its large main room acted as a village hall and there we went regularly to chapel socials and concerts and of course the annual Christmas party, with the obligatory visit of Father Christmas and his tantalisingly bulging sack of presents. It was there that my sisters and I learned to perform in the concerts and played our part in the work involved in providing a sit-down tea for a hundred or more people. It was there that we learned dances like the valeta, the Gay Gordons, the Dashing White Sergeant and of course the inevitable hokey-cokey and where I realised that, as far as dancing is concerned, I was born with two left feet.
|Down the hill to school|
Beyond the Sunday School building was a walk of another few hundred yards, before I reached the next pub, The Rock Inn, and turned left down the lane to our little two-teacher school. According to the wizardry of the path function on Google Earth, that was a walk of about three-quarters of a mile each way, which we did on our own and on foot, winter and summer, through rain, wind, snow and even sunshine, until we left that school and graduated to the luxury of a bus journey to the grammar school in the neighbouring town.
I’m sure that there must have been many times in bad weather when we wished we didn’t have to make that walk twice a day, but it had its compensations. The details of our daily route, the individual buildings we passed, the people we met and the wonderful distant views from the hillside road, are deeply embedded in my memory and in my heart in a way I don’t think any car journey would allow and I’m glad of it. Perhaps I ought to set my alarm by mistake more often….